by Robert O’Dowd
(Somerdale, NJ and Lexington, MA) – Senator Frank Lautenberg, the last surviving World War II Veteran in Congress, passed away on June 3rd while serving his 5th term in Congress. He was famous for fighting on behalf of Veterans services at the federal and local level. Recently he was instrumental in passing the new GI Bill, enacted over Bush’s objections, that improved Veteran’s education benefits so they now receive sufficient resources to attend college after their service.
He took on difficult challenges including the tobacco and chemical industries. He co-sponsored a bill to limit the levels of the cancer-causing chemical, TCE, in public and military base water supplies. This chemical is well known to many Veterans as the agent implicated in deaths and disease at Camp Lejeune. TCE is found at many military bases across the US, so protective actions are necessary to prevent future Lejeunes.
Lautenberg’s support for the protection of Veterans and the public was particularly important in the bill he tirelessly worked on over many years, the “Safe Chemicals Act”. In the face of stiff opposition from the chemical industry, he introduced this bill multiple times in Congress. The bill would require companies to test chemicals for safety before they were sold, with the companies rather than the taxpayers footing the bill.
Appropriately, the introduction to his April 2013 read, as they all did:
“It is the policy of the United States –
1) to protect the health of children, workers, consumers and the public and to protect the environment from harmful effects of chemical substances;” (http://www.lautenberg.senate.gov/assets/SafeChemicals2013-Text.pdf)
We worked with Lautenberg’s office on the bills and knew he and his former staff would not rest until people were protected. That’s what he stood for and who he was. His attitude towards keeping people safe from harm extended from his service in the Army during World War II to his last days on earth.
Unfortunately Lautenberg’s bill was co-opted by those opposed to the tenets that Lautenberg stood for. A pro-chemical industry bill was introduced in late May, just days before Lautenberg’s death. The bill omits the language above, making no mention of protecting children or workers. Many of the new provisions are an insult to the man and his tireless work to keep us all safe. We hope that his former bill is revived and protections are put in place.
Finally, on a personal note, when New Jersey Veterans exhausted other all options for help in obtaining service related disabilities caused by intense chemical exposures, we knew Frank’s office would help. And they did.
Bob O’Dowd, a coauthor of this article, spent many years unsuccessfully dealing with the VA until Frank’s office encouraged them to move forward on case evaluations. And Dr. Kathleen Burns, the other co-author, knew she could refer New Jersey Veterans to Senator Lautenberg’s office when they contacted her for help due to service-related illnesses and encountered endless red tape from the VA.
Senator Lautenberg deserves our respect, as do all those who serve on behalf of the public good, whether in uniform or other service professions. We hope that his legacy will include a strong Veterans and public protection advocate in whoever follows him in office.
We will honor his memory by never giving up on the issues near and dear to us all. He showed us that you can continue the fight to the end, and when you must put down your weapon, there will be others to pick it up and persevere.
Thanks Frank. You are in our hearts, our minds and continue to inspire us all.
Disabled Marine Veteran MCAS El Toro
Advocate for Veterans
Dr. Kathleen Burns
Advocate for Veterans
Robert O’Dowd served in the 1st, 3rd and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings during 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. While at MCAS El Toro for two years, O’Dowd worked and slept in a Radium 226 contaminated work space in Hangar 296 in MWSG-37, the most industrialized and contaminated acreage on the base.
Robert is a two time cancer survivor and disabled veteran. Robert graduated from Temple University in 1973 with a bachelor’s of business administration, majoring in accounting, and worked with a number of federal agencies, including the EPA Office of Inspector General and the Defense Logistics Agency.
After retiring from the Department of Defense, he teamed up with Tim King of Salem-News.com to write about the environmental contamination at two Marine Corps bases (MCAS El Toro and MCB Camp Lejeune), the use of El Toro to ship weapons to the Contras and cocaine into the US on CIA proprietary aircraft, and the murder of Marine Colonel James E. Sabow and others who were a threat to blow the whistle on the illegal narcotrafficking activity. O’Dowd and King co-authored BETRAYAL: Toxic Exposure of U.S. Marines, Murder and Government Cover-Up. The book is available as a soft cover copy and eBook from Amazon.com. See: http://www.amazon.com/Betrayal-Exposure-Marines-Government-Cover-Up/dp/1502340003.